Stationary Figure

An art of simplicity.

It takes not only humility, but vision and skill to deskill the presentation of a work. To see a great dancer’s performance of clumsy is very different than watching an ordinary pedestrian fumble around.

A sense of humor is also necessary, to appreciate the way a good laugh laughs harder against the shattering of a coming end.

Art is so easy to love when it showcases skill. A common litmus test: Can my kid do this? But most have little idea what their child may or may not do, because we only ever see a sliver of possibilities for becoming.

What are the skills no one is listing? Perhaps we need these now. Thanks to any artist that offers pause over the question of what a child’s hand might render, by separating creation from the tired showcase of established measurements of our worth.

***

Inspired by artist John Baldessari’s praise (as presented in an interview with The Met, as part of the museum’s Artist Project series) for Philip Guston’s Stationary Figure (1973). And by his invocation of the classic advice, “Don’t be a showoff.”

First Knowing

What powers may be.

There is knowing before proof, before language––a well of strength,

and a voice. All humans are creatures first, and does the oriole argue

for song? Is the song her testament? No, the song is what she is

singing, because she is.

For us, of course, sensation is not enough. But it is a useful power,

this measure between chaos and the beginning of self. How tragic

it would be, has been, may still be––when knowing is limited to 

what can be readily explained.

Beyond what simply is, what is it that matters? This is not about

what is done, but how. Not ends but means. If there are no ends

but this, imagine the meaning of a life, this fullness.

Here is a power born of chaos and from it, music moves, and through

its force, a body may learn its dance. What songs are missed when

this is muted, what unimagined means, and into what might we

pass, from this dark hour?

***

Inspired by Audre Lorde’s “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power” published in Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. And birdsong.

Last Landscape

A choreography of separation and rebirth.

In exile, a body becomes the means for making truth, denied.

The artist’s body a surrogate, the absent and the dead shine through.

In this container of memory, the present is only fleeting:

bird, river, house. Drip, wind, birdsong.

Gather now, impossible communion.

Human form becomes arid field, then a river

running. Witness, can you remember 

the homes of your lives

and your deaths?

The body is the song,

the message, 

the map,

the only home

and the last stranger on earth.

***

Inspired by Last Landscape, choreographed by Josef Nadj, with music by Vladimir Tarasov. 

Scaling the Hours

Experiments in measurement.

An experiment in time, the idea for breaking it at the hours. You can, if you are willing, do what most children won’t. You can carve them as one would with an animal at the harvest, follow the joints––or lumber, into pieces to be assembled again, one segment at a time, the collected tasks the bearings for the dizzy hand, some terms that a body less willing to invite the dizzy spins can hold. Only by these cuts can we arrive at the conclusion, so often remarked by the aging, about how short it is. A child knows that a while a moment may be short, a glide, a song––Again, again!     

    ––it may also be made of so much forever that it becomes impossible to tell a body’s beginning from its end.

At the Shore

A conversation in the interim.

With the tides coming and going, finding the hidden treasure is often a matter of patience.

Which ocean?

This mind, or whatever you call it. There’s something I am trying to recover.

So now what?

Now I wait.

Hmm. It doesn’t look like you are doing anything.

Yeah. But remember those seeds we planted?

I love those trees! It’s amazing how they went from––

Yeah, but before all that, remember? After we planted, it looked like nothing. Root growth always does. But the tree won’t take if it doesn’t happen.

Wait. Is this about the ocean, or tree growth?

I’m mixing metaphors. It’s about learning to wait when you are trying to make a thing happen.

Got it. What’s happening now?

Notes From the Bat

On finding our way in the dark.

It isn’t you this call is for, but since you’re so intent on listening, I might as well tell you––

I feel this grain-sized ear you glued to my back. I see them on the backs of some of the others, too.

Yes, I see them, but you’ll probably miss the nuance here. We hunt tiny insects in a pitch-black cave, but you––obsessed with the light you’ve equated by mistaken metaphor to some salvation––miss this point, too. 

Look, it’s not that we don’t see you trying. It’s just––sigh. I mean, you look at the sky sometimes, too, right? When was the last time you glimpsed the Milky Way? Consider this: that light traveled billions of years across distances too big for you to imagine, only to be washed out in the last fraction of a second by the glow of a Wal-Mart parking lot. I’m trying to use terms you can understand. 

Suggestion: try reciprocating?

You used to be here with us. Listen, I am trying to tell you––

You can’t hear any of this, can you?  Still, you might. 

Listen, try turning the light off. Stop stopping your ears.

We’re here. Stay a little while. 

But–– Shhhh. I am trying to hear the others, too.

***

Inspired by Ed Yong’s recent Atlantic article, “How Animals Perceive the World.”

Sensation

By the check stand.

You can’t say they didn’t warn us, those eye-level oracles whispering above the chewing gum we didn’t need, the candy bars we secretly craved, the batteries we were always forgetting to buy. It’s not like they weren’t persistent. They offered a bounty of answers, endlessly. But, as the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water––

Secrets would be revealed. Why the it girl could never marry, what the bachelor of the year could never refuse. How to win against the crooks, not to mention important updates: recent developments in a high-profile rivalry, what happened to the kids you still remembered. What was fumbled, what went bust, who was at the end of their rope. 

It was a bombshell. It was graphic. It was a must see. It promised: Your questions finally answered! The secrets, the how to, the life hack you don’t want to try living without. The bags of apples moved ahead; the cereal was scanned. There was always something we were forgetting until it was too late. In this way they knew us, these oracles.

Look away at your own risk, they chided. We slid forward, replied with banal comments about how our days were going. Buttons were pressed, money exchanged. A receipt was handed over. We turned to exit, offered the usual thanks. But the things that we carried could not be the things we were here for, could they? They had called our bluff, these fantastical fortune-tellers. We exited through the sliding doors, into the asphalt flatland, squinting against the glare.

***

Inspired by a recent survey of magazines featured by the checkout station at the local supermarket.

First Flights

Tracing the texture of a dream.

Here is a book of time, someone told us, to translate a voice in the heart of the sky. It reminded us forward to the hour of the story inside the essence of the dream through which we flew to the beginning of the word on a current of makers.

Sighing creation, we ran, particles of ourselves in waves at the shore, piling sand into a world we could live in, and we admired the work of our hands until the tide took it back. 

We borrowed the insights of distant lightning to hold back the night, and with wet hands we peeled the dawn to eat it raw, dew dripping from our laughing chins.

The Memory Tower

For Leonora Carrington.

Everything happened after my birth, you said, as you left on the boat of the herons, a new Eve, refusing to be devoured as anybody’s muse. You had spells to cast, self-portraits as alchemy, your spine a hearing trumpet, listening between the worlds; mère, mer; now mother, now sea.

The solar systems of your eyes kindled by your own light, you rode the seventh horse away from the house of fear, passing through the stone door to the land where the serpents sing stories from the well to the pilgrims ascending the memory tower.

El Mundo Mágico de los Mayas, Leonora Carington

***

Inspired by the life and work of artist Leonora Carrington, with phrases borrowed from the titles of her paintings and stories, as well as her interviews.